" Who are you?”
“My name is Pussy Galore”
“I must be dreaming "
— Sean Connery & Honor Blackman, Goldfinger

MRQE Top Critic

Art and Craft

An object lesson in how to make a good documentary —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Minions: The Rise of Gru is so good, it’s the antithesis of Pixar’s Lightyear in virtually every way.

Bad Gru Rising

Young Gru (Steve Carell)
Young Gru (Steve Carell)

This fifth big-screen installment of the comical misadventures of Gru and his tribe of minions is a surprisingly strong entry. It’s packed with over-the-top humor and lots of colorful action to keep the kids happy, but it’s also stuffed with pop culture references and a sly wit that’ll appeal to the grown-ups (not the grown-olds). In short, it’s the kind of entertainment at which Pixar used to excel.

It’s 1976. Gru (still voiced by Steve Carell) is a mere 11 ¾ years old and he’s already really despicable. It’s Career Day at school. Kids talk about wanting to be firefighters, presidents, doctors; the usual fantasies and delusions of grandeur. But Gru keeps it real. “I want to be a super villain,” he says.

From there, the kid metes out his unique brand of terror on the town. While crowds line up to get tickets to the perpetually sold-out Jaws, Gru takes a short cut. He sets off a fart bomb that clears the auditorium, leaving Gru and his favorite minions to revel in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece. He also cheats at all the arcade games, scoring a massive haul of prizes.

Most dastardly of all, he savors a quadruple-scoop ice cream cone in front of envious chumps in a fitness center.

His is the kind of Bond villainy that would make everybody from Dr. Julius No to Lyutsifer Safin blush with jealous admiration.

And that’s where there’s a peculiar kind of joy to be had in The Rise of Gru. The opening titles are a spoof of the classic James Bond stylings, with those chubby – and curiously adorable – minions taking the place of the honey babies. And it only gets more colorful from there.

Kill Otto

The story revolves around tweenage Gru’s failed attempt to join the Vicious 6, a vile collective of baddies with splashy names and stunning vocal talent. There’s Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren), Nun-chuck (Lucy Lawless), Stronghold (Danny Trejo) and – get this – Jean-Clawed (voiced by none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme).

Savor it. Get washed in the silliness. There are no political or cultural agendas on tap here; this one is for the fun of it – and it feels so good to have an unguarded laugh.

As with Top Gun: Maverick and so many other releases, this one was delayed because of the pandemic. While the movie didn’t make it into theatres during the summer of 2020, the toys still made it to the shelves last summer. But, this one was also well worth the wait. It’s a big, vibrant animated adventure with so many sight gags, it needs to be seen on the biggest screen around.

Those visuals include a cameo by legendary stuntman Evel Knievel, the aforementioned Nun-chuck (a menacing nun with a cross that transforms into the infamous Japanese weapon), martial arts jumpsuits humorously reminiscent of Uma Thurman’s outfit in Kill Bill and Linda Ronstadt album covers.

Yeah. Linda Ronstadt.

Criminal Records is a great name for a record label and a record store and it’s also a literal store front to a criminal underworld. The store sells vinyl records and the high-tech wizardry that is the 8-track tape. Talk to the hip clerk named Nefario (Russell Brand) and he’ll hook you up with her latest single. Play You’re No Good in the “out of order” listening booth. Play it backwards!

Va-voom. You’re in the presence of the almighty Vicious 6.

Disco Inferno

Minion madness!
Minion madness!

The Rise of Gru paints a fantastic sense of time and place, all framed around a parody of the James Bond and Kung-Fu series of the era. And it packs quite a punch in its relatively short runtime; the action blazes through in a lively and efficient 87 minutes. Plenty of time to front-load the comedy with references to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Don Rickles, Mad Magazine and so much more. Mission: accomplished. Drop the mic.

But only after a very sweet and funny rendition of the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

It’s always been hard to argue with the special, slick brand of silliness offered by the minions, who debuted back in 2010. Amazingly, that’s still the case.

There are those minions, who are thrust into the world of martial arts thanks to Chinatown’s Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh). Sight gags aplenty, but none top her masterful use of a patient undergoing an acupuncture session.

Then there’s Gru’s dire situation as he’s dangled by the ankles over the streets of San Francisco. He’s given a phone to call his mom (who no doubt would pay a ransom so his captors would keep him). It’s a rotary phone. The slow, methodical process of dialing his home number is timed perfectly.

It all ties together with a sweet, sensible message about the importance of finding your tribe. After all, world domination isn’t a solo effort.